I wish you all a very happy New Year and prosperous 1999. It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the twentieth session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. I would also like to take this opportunity to extend my hearty congratulations to all our new colleagues who have joined the Committee with wide range of attributes and a fresh outlook which will immensely enrich the work of our Committee. I would also take this opportunity to add that as newly elected experts of the Committee you have just joined one of the most important human rights treaty bodies responsible to promote and defend human rights of half of humanity in which commitment, solidarity and friendship among members and above all independence and impartiality of members are vital for the well functioning and credibility of the treaty body.
During the intersessional period, I have tried to maintain contact with the experts on a regular basis which facilitated my work and contributed to improving our common commitments. In this connection I would like to thank those experts who wrote to me giving suggestions or expressing concern on particular issue on various occasions. Such communications helped me to expedite the work in hand.
Before I begin the report on my activities undertaken in my capacity as the Chairperson during the period between the nineteenth and twentieth session, let me bring few things to your kind attention for information and consideration.
Some of you have written to me personally regarding the delay in receiving reports of countries to be considered by the Committee. You would recall that I have written to you as early as 3 September 1998 suggesting the responsibilities for members of the Committee with respect to upcoming twentieth session. I further suggested that the designated country rapporteurs may wish to work with the new members in drafting the concluding comments in order to familiarize them with our working methods. With this end in view Division for the Advancement of Women was advised to send the reports to all experts allowing them sufficient time to work on each report and the dateline for submission of comments and questions relating to periodic reports were set accordingly.
However, things did not go as expected causing concern to many experts some of whom wrote to me personally. Although I was assured by the Division earlier that every effort will be made to send the reports well in advance, reports were sent to them by DHL not before the second week of October, 1998. The main reason for the delay as explained to me by the Secretariat was that the States parties which were listed for review by the Committee did not make their intentions clear in this regard until quite close to the session. Ultimately when all reports were received those could not be sent immediately to the experts as those needed to be translated in UN working languages. Furthermore, supplementary materials submitted by some States parties required additional time for translation. Again due to withdrawal of a States party at a very late stage, Kyrgystan was approached so that the Committee would have at least seven reports to review at this session.
Taking all these into account, the situation calls for improvement so that experts can receive reports well in advance to devote required time on each report. The Committee may suggest some practical strategy to the Secretariat to streamline the situation.
You are aware that the Committee at its eighteenth session decided to effect a transition to a pattern of work in which the pre-session working group meets at the session prior to which the reports before the pre-session will be considered. Accordingly the pre-session working group for the twenty-first session will meet as a third working group during this session. This move was highly appreciated by the States parties as mentioned by some of them in the statement made to the Third Committee of the 53rd session of the UN General Assembly. I would particularly like to quote from the statement made by the representative of Tanzania in this respect:
"We are pleased to learn that the Committee has decided to refine its methods of preparing the list of issues and questions with respect to periodic reports thus providing States parties with sufficient time to consult extensively before appearing before the Committee. We applaud this development, for we are convinced that such an arrangement will afford member states more time to consult extensively and thus submit more comprehensive and objective reports".
I shall now begin listing the various meetings and events I attended during the last six months on behalf of the Committee.
Second South Asian Regional Meeting to Commemorate Beijing Conference
Kathmandu, Nepal, September 9-12, 1998
The Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing was a milestone in the history of the advancement of women and had a direct and concrete impact on the situation of women all over the world. This also gave new impetus to the implementation of the CEDAW. As an outcome of the conference, over 85 countries including countries in the South Asian region have formulated national action plans. The Kathmandu meeting organized by the regional UNIFEM office aimed at developing a regional overview of the FWCW and identify regional challenges and gaps to formulate future course of action as well to develop a joint strategy with regard to gender mainstreaming in the national development plans of each country.
Some participating countries emphasized that in order to enable governments of developing countries to live upto the commitments they made at Beijing, the international community must take concrete measures aimed at alleviating their major developmental problems.
In my statement I informed the meeting about the Committees' role in monitoring the implementation of the PFA and modification of reporting guidelines to elicit information to this end and the Committee's general recommendations covering a number of critical areas of concern of the PFA which also assist States parties to initiate practical measures to address those. It was particularly appreciated that to mark the five years since the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action was adopted, the Committee is joining hands with the Commission on the Status of Women to review and appraise the progress achieved in implementing the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women and the PFA in preparation for a special session of the GA to be held in the year 2000. Our report on this is to be finalised at this session.
Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Paris, France, September 14-16, 1998
To demonstrate its deep commitment to Human Rights, the Government of France organized an International Symposium on the theme "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948-1998 - The Future of a Common Ideal" under the distinguished patronage of Mr. Jacques Chirac, President of France, Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary General of United Nations and Mr. Fedrico Mayor, Director General of UNESCO among others.
It was indeed a great honour to the CEDAW Committee to be invited by the distinguished sponsors to be a member of the Honorary Committee for the event and to chair a plenary session.
The Committee's participation in the international symposium not only gave a rightful recognition to its role but also provided it with wider visibility. The Conference brought together the most eminent international specialists who have made outstanding contributions to furthering the ideals of the Universal Declaration. The Conference was broadcast through internet allowing wide participation by people from all walks of life. While thanking the organizers for the honour, I registered my profound disappointment for the fact that while the symposium had covered analysis of a wide range of human rights issues, out of the six sessions of the plenary, none were particularly addressed to human rights of women.
My statement emphasized the fact that the UDHR which was the first ethical movement to establish equal rights of men and women forms the basis of the CEDAW Convention. In particular, article 2 of the Universal Declaration which sets out the basic principle of equality and non-discrimination with regard to the enjoyment of human rights and forbids distinctions of any kind on the basis of sex, is echoed all through the CEDAW Convention. A great deal of interest was shown by the participants in the Convention and the work of the Committee. The statement made by the chairperson of CEDAW on the topic "Application of the UDHR to Establish Equal Rights of Women" is going to be published in the commemorative issue on Equal UDHR.
Third Committee of the General Assembly
New York, October 14, 1998
On behalf of the Committee, I attended the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly which took place with a tone of celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and at a time when we mark the 18th year since the entry into force of the CEDAW Convention which was an appropriate occasion to review the achievements of as well as challenges faced by the Committee and the Convention. The meeting was informed about the renewed efforts of the Committee to bridge the gap between ratification and implementation of the Convention and concrete measures taken in that direction. Number of government delegates to the Third Committee commended the work of the Committee and its recent efforts to reinforce the implementation mechanisms of the Convention.
The development of an optional protocol and the statement of the Committee concerning adverse impact of reservation to the Convention prepared to mark the 50th anniversary at UDHR were particularly appreciated by many member states.
You are also aware that Tenth Meeting of the persons Chairing the Treaty Bodies was another important meeting which you authorized your Chairperson to attend on behalf of the Committee. Unfortunately, the scheduled dates for the Tenth Meeting of Chairpersons overlapped with the dates for the International Symposium held in Paris to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the UDHR. Consequently I asked Ms. Charlotte Abaka to attend the Chairpersons meeting in Geneva on behalf of the Committee and I would request Ms. Abaka to inform the Committee on the outcome of that meeting.
Relationship with UN Specialized Agencies
During this period, we have continued to maintain our strong relationship with UN Specialized Agencies. You would recall that Mrs. Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights addressed the eighteenth session of the Committee and expressed her great interest and full support in the work of the Committee. You are aware of her recent mission to the Peoples Republic of China, which was highly acclaimed by the international media. Prior to her departure for China, she sought inputs from CEDAW Committee members, so that she could use those while discussing relevant issues with the Chinese authority. I also informed her that the Committee was going to consider the Third and Fourth periodic report of China at its forthcoming session and that she might like to suggest to the Committee to focus on certain specific issues on the basis of her recently gained experiences during the historic trip. In a letter of December 3 1998 while giving a detailed account of her visit, the High Commissioner mentioned about progresses made and challenges faced by China. Her efforts to cooperate with the work of the Committee not only indicated her firm commitment to address the relevant issues concerning women's rights in a pragmatic manner but also demonstrated a sense of partnership between the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights and the CEDAW Committee.
Another important development with regard to our relationship with UN specialized Agencies is the invitation of UNFPA for two members of the Committee to participate in ICPD+5 to be held in the Hague to assess the progress and constraints faced by countries in the implementation of the Program of Action adopted in ICPD in Cairo in September 1994 if funding is available form the expert's UNFPA office
As a contribution to 50th anniversary of UDHR celebration, UNESCO has published a Passport to Equality in English which contains the text of CEDAW Convention to distribute it widely among girls and women towards fulfilling its particular responsibility in the implementation of Article 10 of our Convention. UNESCO has undertaken a project to publish the Passport to Equality in six more languages. While attending the Third Committee meeting in New York, I had a meeting with Ms. Breda Pavlic, head of Unit for Promotion of the Status of Women and Gender Equality to consider a joint programe of CEDAW and UNESCO to promote literacy and education of girls and women to commemorate the forthcoming 20th anniversary of the adoption of our Convention. Following that meeting, I have written to her officially about the matter.
As December 18, 1999 will mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women and on November 20, 1999, the Convention on the Right of the Child will mark its 10th anniversary, it will provide us with an unique opportunity to underline the role and importance of international normative instruments to establish full and equal rights of women and girl the Child. I have written to Ms. Sandra Mason Chairperson, Committee of the Rights of the child proposing her to initiate a joint program to commemorate the event.
In my capacity as the Chairperson of the Committee, I have been actively involved with UNICEF Bangladesh to produce a Bengali version of the CEDAW Convention with commentary which is due to be published on 8th March 1999 - the International Women's Day.
Relationship with NGOs
Like previous years, the national and international NGOs were invited to present country-specific information in the pre-session Working Group which proved very useful to the Committee's work. In addition, the experts also received shadow reports from numbers of NGOs. Following its longstanding practice, University of Minnesota based International Women's Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) has produced shadow reports on five reporting countries on the basis of independent information and research. As in the past, The IWRAW report is expected to serve as an important tool for the Committee in monitoring the compliance of the Convention. The IWRAW consultation on article 5 of the Convention due to take place next week is also expected to bring out important strategies to address adverse impact of culture and tradition on the enjoyment of human rights of women.
Campaign for universal ratification of CEDAW
In 1998, the human rights of women being at the centre of commemorative activities for the 50th anniversary of UDHR, greater attention was focused on CEDAW. So for a majority of member states have signified their commitment to the Convention by ratification or accession. However, we are yet to reach the goal of universal ratification of the Convention set by the Beijing Platform for Action.
You would recall that prior to the eighteenth session of CEDAW, on behalf of the Committee I wrote to those countries that were not yet parties to the Convention urging them to ratify. As part of the campaign drive, Ms. Angela King, Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women had also written to Mr. James Gustav Speth, Administrator of the United Nations Development Program requesting him to encourage governments to ratify the Convention. The efforts have resulted in ratifications, including most recently, by Djibouti.
However, CEDAW is still far short of universal ratification and United States of America is one of the important remaining countries to become a party to the Convention. As a concrete initiative I wrote to some of the important women's organization of USA having very large membership and international networking including the Zonta International, Federation of University Women, Business and Professional Women's Club and Soroptimist International. I have also written a letter to Mr. Bill Clinton, President of the United States of America urging him to ratify CEDAW to mark the 50th anniversary of UDHR by giving new impetus to human rights of women. I would urge the incumbent Chairperson to take up the issue of universal ratification so that the goal can be met by the year 2000.
In accordance with item 5 of the agenda I have presented the report of my activities during the second half of 1998. Since this is the last time that I am going to present a report in my capacity as the chairperson of the Committee, I would also like to make few comments on the achievements of the Committee during last two years and what remains to be achieved by the Committee in the coming years before we reach a new millenium.
The Committee continues to be encouraged by the steady increase in the number of States parties to the Convention. 163 states are now party to the Convention, thereby making the objective of universal ratification by the year 2000 as established in both the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action and Beijing Platform for Action adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women a realistic goal.
The Committee is now able to meet twice yearly and as of December 31, 1998 21 States parties had accepted the amendment of article 20, paragraph 1 of the Convention which limits the Committees meeting time. It is hoped that soon the two-third majority required to enter it into force will be achieved. Following the two annual sessions, the Committee has reviewed 34 reports including one report on exceptional basis adding to a total of 179 reports since its establishment thereby significantly reducing the backlog of reports awaiting review. It has also considered 5 reports on an exceptional basis.
The Committee has improved its methods of reviewing States parties reports and revised the way it formulates concluding comments so that these are able to provide for reporting states a clear indication on their strengths and in implementing the Convention and areas where further efforts are required.
It was also gratifying to note that most of the States parties reviewed have taken positive steps to ensure de jure equality of women. The Committees statement concerning the adverse impact of reservations to the Convention have on equal rights of women prepared to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the UDHR was commended and well received by most of the States parties. Although a large number of States parties continue to have reservations to one or more substantive articles of the Convention, (54 out of 163 States parties), the concerted efforts of the Committee have led several States parties to withdraw or limit their reservations.
Great strides towards the elaboration of an optional complaints protocol to the Convention have also been made. The working group of the CSW has made great progress in drafting the protocol and it is expected that significant advances will be made on this at the 43rd session of the Commission.
During this time the Committee has modified the process for the preparation of general recommendations and the draft general recommendation on article 12 is nearly ready for adoption.
In recent years the Committee has deepened its relationship with specialized agencies funds and programs of the United Nations system and with NGOs. They are now invited to present information to the pre-session working group on those States parties whose reports are being considered by the working group. In order to broaden women's rights through consensus, CEDAW is working for a growing partnership with NGO and civil society. Wide dissemination of the work of the Committee has also been achieved particularly as a result of the Women Watch website developed by UNDAW, UNIFEM and INSTRAW.
The adoption of the Statute of the International Criminal Court in Rome, last June, which includes all forms of sexual violence as war crimes in both international and non-international conflicts is a major step towards protection of women's rights.
A century that began with women and children having virtually no rights is ending with powerful and wide-ranging instruments that not only acknowledge but also protect their dues.
Despite all these gigantic strides, we have little room to be complacent. As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of UDHR and embark on the five year review of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, we are aware that in most societies women continue to face discrimination and an far from full enjoyment of their human rights. In many countries, laws or customs still curtail women's right to education, work and mobility. Violence against women still constitute one of the gravest forms of violation of their rights. In case of civil strife and armed conflict women are more often targeted as special group to inflict upon with hostility and assault by the aggressor.
One of the avowed goals of the Beijing conference in 1995 was the elimination of all conditions and obstacles that hamper and violate women's rights. It is apparent that we have miles to go before equality, freedom, dignity and security of human person are achieved that are explicitly set forth in the UDHR and the under-lying principle of our Convention and the Beijing Declaration.
However, we are encouraged that full compliance to CEDAW has became a natural point of reference for the UN system and also to NGOs and civil society. To eliminate all forms of discriminations against women we must redouble our efforts, commitment and energy. The Committee must achieve what is expected of it. Let that be the guiding principle for the Committee for the twenty first century.
I would like to thank all of you very warmly for giving me the honour to chair this very distinguished Committee and steer its work during the last four sessions. I have learned and experienced a great deal. I had the opportunity to represent the most important treaty monitoring body responsible for half of humanity at various important international events as well as at grassroots organization in remotest places, and every where I found that the Convention and the Committees' works have greatly impacted the lives of women. This not only talks of the unique distinction of CEDAW but also the unexampled responsibility of our Committee. Your continued support and valuable suggestions were critically important to me to carry out my responsibility for which I am ever thankful. In this connection I also acknowledge the contributions of those experts who left the Committee last year.
My particular thanks are to Vice Chairpersons Ms. Carlotta Bustelo, Ms. Charlotte Abaka and Ms. Miriam Estrada and Rapporteur of the Committee Ms. Aurora Javate de Dios. My thanks are also due to Working Group Chairpersons Ms. Abaka, Ms. Bare and Ms Aouij who shouldered responsibility when Ms. Bare had to leave.
I must express my sincere thanks to Ms. Angela King, Assistant Secretary General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women for her continued cooperation and support to me. My thanks are also due to Ms. Kristen Timothy, Deputy Director, Ms. Jane Connors, Chief, Women's Rights Unit, Ms. Philomena Kintu, Secretary of the Committee and Mr. Dino Del Vasto who is now on mission in Arusha. My thanks are also to all other staff members of the Secretariat who have always been helpful and cooperative.
I would also like to thank all NGO representatives who have helped the Committee in various ways. I would particularly like to mention the names of IWRAW, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights and Centre for Reproductive Law and Policy.
I would also like to thank Ms. Ivanka Corti and other members of the pre-session Working Group for working very hard.
Last but not least, my hearty congratulations to Ms. Aida Gonzalez Martinez on her election as the new chair of the Committee. She has been associated with the Committee for a very long time. Her vast experience and deep commitment to CEDAW will be critically important to steer the Committee to a new century.
Thank you all for your patience.
1997 and 1998.